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The customer testimonials appearing on nearly every matchmaking website hammer home this stereotype: Russian women are less materialistic than American women; they're dedicated homemakers and devoted mothers; they're not discriminating about a man's looks, but are concerned about their own appearance. In short, Slavic women are more feminine -- or least closer to an old-school feminine ideal.
"A Russian woman thinks gym clothes are for the gym," observes a typical testimonial.
"She expects to be treated as a lady; she is the weaker sex and knows it," states another.
Steckel concedes that the perception that American women are spoiled shop-a-holics who won't give a man the time of day unless he drives a luxury car is perhaps a little unfair.
"Americans of both sexes have some unrealistic expectations in a mate," he says. "But at least a guy can jump on a plane and go realize his fantasy."
Dr. Paul Kapphahn, a psychotherapist with the Center for Counseling Services in Dunwoody who's counseled several Russo-American couples who'd met through a matchmaking agency, says he's familiar with this odd brand of reverse chauvinism.
"I know many men who've written off American women because they think they're too demanding or materialistic," he says. "They read about Ukrainian women who lead simple lifestyles, who don't need to be shopping all the time, who are devoted to their families, and they think, 'That's the woman for me.'"
It also doesn't hurt that the former Evil Empire seems to be bursting at the seams with stone-cold hotties.
With few exceptions, the women pictured on the agency websites run the gamut from above average to va-va-voom, complete with willowy builds and long hair. If the Net-geek community hasn't already coined the appropriate acronym, let's do so now with TGTBT: too good to be true. Even assuming that a savvy businessman is going to front-load his website with the most attractive specimens, some of the glamour-shot images on display stretch the limits of credulity.
But Steckel and Agee insist the photos -- which often look like the results of a magazine cover shoot -- and the women are genuine. Most of them, anyway. The women are expected to submit their own photos and often go to professional studios to have them taken. The few that are found to be fake are dropped from the site, they say.
"The average Russian lady is more attractive than the average American lady, no question about it," Steckel says. "I'm just telling you what I see."
And yet, eye of the beholder aside, just because a statement is a sweeping generality doesn't necessarily mean it's inaccurate. For example, if the Czech Republic doesn't have more than its share of statuesque, foxy women, then why do so many supermodel surnames end in "-ova"?
Sasha already had seen her share of heartache when a friend told her about the dating agency. She had been married at 19 to a good-looking truck-driver and they'd had a daughter. But her husband drank too much and had little interest in being a father, so she left him and moved back in with her parents in the eastern Ukrainian city of Sloviansk. She had finished college and got a job teaching Ukrainian at a local school, but yearned to find a man who needed her.
"Every normal woman dreams of a family," she says in her thick Slavic accent.
Then a friend gave her an invitation to a reception in Kiev where she could meet wealthy foreign men, and showed her the European Connections catalog.
"I said, I'm 23 and putting myself in a catalog like a product? I don't think so," she recalls.
But her younger sister talked her into making the trip to the capital. After all, it sounded better than meeting someone at a bar. Plus, if she felt uncomfortable, she could just leave.
So Sasha joined her friend on the train to Kiev and found herself in the ballroom of a fancy downtown hotel, sitting by herself as her friend mingled with the foreign men.
"I saw many beautiful girls and I thought, what am I doing here?" she says. She was about to leave when she was told a man had asked to meet her.
Phil Lewis was the first American she had ever met. Even though she spoke no English, the two found they had a great deal in common.
"In only a few minutes, he showed me pictures of his children -- and usually men don't care about children," Sasha says.
After about 15 minutes of translated conversation, she says, "I felt at home. I looked in his eyes and I know nothing can go wrong."
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